By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
It only took 15 seconds, on the game’s first play, for No. 3 Cardinal Newman to end any doubt that they would defeat No. 11 Encinal in Friday night’s North Coast Section Division 3 quarterfinal.
Philip “Scooby” Wright broke several tackles and plowed through Encinal (7-6) defenders to return the opening kickoff 82 yards for a Cardinal Newman (11-1) touchdown — and the route was on. The Cardinals led 40-0 with three minutes to play in the first half and cruised to a 40-14 victory on a muddy home field pelted by relentless rain.
“To be honest, (the kickoff return) was a blur and I ended up in the open field,” Wright said. “I just follow my wedge to the hole.”
The win sends Cardinal Newman to next Friday’s semifinal game against the winner of today’s quarterfinal between No. 7 Miramonte (Orinda) and No. 2 Marin Catholic (Kentfield). The Cardinals will either host next week’s game if Miramonte pulls the upset, or go on the road if Marin Catholic wins.
“It doesn’t matter who we play next, we just want to play another game and we are excited about that,” Cardinal Newman coach Paul Cronin said. “In a mud game, a big play like the opening kickoff return set the tone. Scooby is a great player.”
The Cardinals took advantage of several Jets miscues in the first half. The Cardinal Newman defense intercepted Encinal quarterback Taivale Tautalatasi (2-for-9, 19 yards) twice, recovered a Jets fumble and stopped Encinal on a risky gamble on fourth down deep in the Jets’ own territory.
“We got some breaks tonight,” Cronin said. “You don’t want to play playoff games in this kind of weather. In bad weather it’s all about field position.”
Leading 7-0, Cardinal Newman then scored five more touchdowns in 16 minutes in the first half. Wright dove for a 2-yard score followed by a 50-yard scoring pass from quarterback Keaton Dunsford to receiver Jacob Webb on a screen pass that beat the Jets blitz for a 20-0 Cardinals lead.
Later in the second quarter, Zak Faber scored on a 1-yard run, Kenny Carter added an 18-yard scoring jaunt and Dunsford connected with Webb again for a 14-yard touchdown for the 40-0 bulge.
“I think Cardinal Newman is great. I thought they should have been seeded No. 1,” Encinal coach Joe Tenorio said. “They look small in those uniforms but they are big in person. They are well coached and one of the best teams in our section.”
Dunsford finished 10-of-13 for 169 yards and two touchdowns. Carter led all rushers with 86 yards on 13 carries.
“We just did all of our assignments and it worked out,” Wright said in a postgame downpour.